LEWISBURG, Pa. — Josh Chrenko said earlier this week that the Susquehanna River is as good as any smallmouth bass river he’s ever fished.
Then he went out and proved it.
Chrenko, 38, won the Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series powered by TourneyX on Sunday in the center of the Keystone State. He took the Day 1 lead with a five-bass limit that measured 96.25 inches and delivered again on the second and final day of the derby with another limit, this one measuring 97.75 inches.
That gave the Greenwood, Ind., resident a total of 194 inches, which was more than enough to claim the tournament’s $8,500 first prize. The Top 15 anglers and Big Bass Award winner split a cash purse of $30,200.
“I’m not a national tournament guy,” Chrenko said, shortly after receiving the championship trophy.
“I’m from Indiana and we don’t have anything like this at home. So, if I get a chance to fish here, I’m gonna go … And to be standing up here now (after winning the tournament), it’s just surreal.”
Chrenko fished an isolated spot of the river — a gamble, he said, because it was an effort to reach. But the chunky smallmouth bass feeding there, alongside big muskie and flatheads, made it worth the risk.
“I went there on Thursday for my first practice day and in 45 minutes, I had two 20s and two 19s,” Chrenko said. “So, I knew that was my spot. But (if the bite changed) there was nothing else I could fish around it. I would pretty much be stuck.”
Fortunately for Chrenko, no one was on his spot Saturday morning. He caught only eight fish, but they were the ones he needed.
“I only had four fish until about 1:30 that afternoon,” he said. “I had only one Bull Shad in my swimbait box, and I caught my first four keepers on that.”
After a giant muskie broke his bait off, Chrenko threw a Megabass Magslowl swimbait to finish his limit. He loaded up on swimbaits Saturday night, figuring he might need them after the front pushed through fully overnight.
“The water was like chocolate milk today,” he said. “But I put on a Z-Man JackHammer and I wound up catching nine fish. I only had 17 fish in two days, but they were the right ones.”
Rus Snyders of Pegram, Tenn., stormed from fifth place on Saturday into second on Sunday, courtesy of a limit that measured 97.25. That gave him a 191.25-inch total over the weekend — good enough not only for the second-place bounty of $3,800, but also to earn him the 2023 Dakota Lithium Bassmaster Kayak Series Angler of the Year title.
Snyders pocketed an additional $5,000 prize for winning the year’s points race.
“This is the best week of smallmouth fishing I’ve had in my life,” he said. “Every day they were just chewing … I saw what the forecast was doing over the weekend, and I found a few baits that were working. But over 50% of my time, I was on that Torqeedo and I would zig-zag back and forth all over the place.
“I marked everything I could — a shoal, a big boulder, a rockpile, a laydown.”
With more than 300 waypoints charted, Snyders was able to find fish despite the water dirtying following the front. His best bites on Saturday came on Neko rigs. On Sunday, he leaned on a variety of Megabass Magdraft swimbaits.
Snyders’ second-place finish this weekend capped a spectacular year, in which he won the Kayak Series Championship on Chickamauga Lake in his home state in March. He also had a second-place showing on the Mississippi River in Wisconsin, finished third at Alabama’s Lake Guntersville and 15th at Lake Hartwell in South Carolina.
“Everything this year has gone so smoothly,” Snyders said. “Not just with my fishing, but everything in general.”
Rounding out the Top 5 this weekend on the Susquehanna are Pennsylvania’s Jordan Welliver, third, 190.5, $2,700; Pennsylvania’s Jake Harshman, fourth, 187, $1,950; and West Virginia’s Mark Edwards, fifth, 186.75, $1,800.
Welliver also won the $500 Big Bass Award for the 21.5-inch smallmouth he caught Sunday.
A total of 146 anglers from across the U.S. competed in the derby.
The final berths in the 2024 Yamaha Rightwaters Bassmaster Kayak Series Championship powered by TourneyX will be announced later this week. The Top 5 anglers from each event this season, plus several dozen from the Angler of the Year standings, will be invited to the championship which is scheduled for March 20-21 on Oklahoma’s Lake Tenkiller. The kayak championship will be held in conjunction with the 2024 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota, which is scheduled for March 22-24 in Tulsa.
The tournament was sponsored by the Susquehanna River Valley Visitors Bureau.